An Introduction to Higher Education System in the United Kingdom

The higher education system in the United Kingdom is one of the most appreciated systems for its introduction of standard and quality all over the world. The prestige of the UK’s higher education system has also been heightened by the work of its graduates across the globe. British universities has produced many graduates who went on to contribute a lot to their discipline, community or the nation. Many UK universities are ranked top among universities from all over the world. London—the capital city of the UK—is also called the educational capital of the world. With its four universities being ranked in the world’s top ten, London has the highest number of top worldwide ranked universities per city.

By definition, the UK higher education is the level of education that follows the secondary school at the hierarchy of educational system in the UK. When the high school is over, Britons have to sit in a standard examination, which makes them eligible or not to continue their education in the higher level of education.

UK’s higher education system differs a lot from the rest of the systems in the world, including the US. While in the US there is no distinction between college and university with most of the people referring to a higher education provider as a college, in the UK this is not the case. In the United Kingdom, a college is a Further Education institution which prepares its students to earn degrees, while a university is licensed Higher Education institution, so at the end of it, students will gain a degree.

Also Read: Standardized Tests Required to Study in the UK

Level of Courses

Based on the actual education regulations in the UK education system, Higher Education comprises these levels of courses:

  • Postgraduate courses that lead to a Doctorate, a Master’s degree (Taught or Research), Postgraduate diplomas, postgraduate certificates of education (PGCE) and professional degrees. To enter this level, it is usually required to have a first degree (Bachelor).
  • Undergraduate courses which include a wide range of first degrees (Bachelor’s): Honours and Ordinary degrees, qualified teacher status, enhanced first degrees, intercalated degrees (first-degree students in specific study fields may interrupt their ongoing studies and spend a year studying a field related to their major study subject).
  • Other undergraduate courses: Foundation degrees, SVQ, NVQ, Higher National Diploma HND (or equivalent), NHC (or equivalent), etc.

An undergraduate course usually takes 3 years to finish, while Scotland makes an exemption because it takes 4 years to finish an undergraduate course. The higher education in the UK education system is having an extended number of universities that are offering 4-year undergraduate courses, also known as “sandwich courses”. This program includes one year in the workplace, usually in your third year.

Some British universities offer fast-track programs where you can obtain a Master’s degree at the undergraduate level. By contrast to traditional undergraduate levels, students in these programs can attend an additional year of studying instead of taking a Bachelor degree and then admit to a Master program. Besides, it costs much less than usual 3-year undergraduate courses, it’s normally much intense because there are shorten holiday breaks and the schedule is heavy.

Some of the more prestigious universities in the UK offer postgraduate degrees. If schools offer postgraduate degrees, they offer Master’s Degrees (typically one year, sometimes two years if your degree is research-based) and/or Doctorate degrees (three-year degrees). These are only available if you have obtained a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university (not necessarily one in England).

Also Read: Global Excellence Scholarship at Aston University UK

The syllabi in the UK universities are decided by the universities themselves and are not guided by any government educational body. The only exception to this is teacher education programs in which the government has a lot of influence. The British government has established the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) which works to maintain the standard of teacher education programs. Most countries have specific regulations for their teachers, so this isn’t any different than studying teaching in your home country. Because of their strict regulations and high standards for teacher education programs, the UK is considered to have some of the best teacher education programs in the world.

Even though the syllabi are set by universities, the Office for Fair Access (Offa) in the British school system, has a lot of say on the admission procedures of each university. This office was created so that everyone who wishes to attend university in the UK has the ability to do so. They also promote fair access to higher education, even for those who are attending university as international students. Fair access also includes those of different cultures, different races, different nationalities, and those who have disabilities.

UK Tuition Fees and Costs

Costs are also a matter to consider alongside the reputation of UK universities. Tuition fees may vary from university to university and in which zone of administration you’re looking at (England, Scotland, and Wales), so it’s always advisable to check the university’s website before making any further plan for your studies. For sure, to attend a British university you need a lot of money packed in, whether you’re a native or not, but if you have financial hardships, there are a lot of scholarships available.

Also Read: Extracurricular Activities for College Application

International students are a substantial part of the student population in British universities. The UK is the second most popular study destination for international students following the US at the top. If you decide to be one of more than a million foreign students in the US, you’re definitely one step far from a guaranteed brighter future. In the end, it must be emphasized that despite being hardly affordable, if you decide to study in the UK will surely worth the cost. The UK education system and its higher education degrees are valued by academics and employers all over the world.


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